Study Guide

Grendel Hate

By John Gardner


There's a lot of hate in Grendel. By that, we also mean that there's a lot of love in Grendel.

Confused? That's because there's no separating love and hate in this book. The universe has a way of turning everything good, beautiful and potentially uplifting in Grendel's life into a sore point. The Shaper, Good Queen Wealtheow, the love of his mother—all of these rub on the open wound of Grendel's isolation and cursedness.

What can Grendel do? As the dragon says, he has a role to fill: he's never going to be loved. His role is to destroy.

Grendel's knee-jerk reaction to emotion is to destroy. Feeling tenderness for something? Perhaps he should kill it. Touched by the beauty of poetry? He really should crush the Shaper's skull. Of course, who could blame him? He's an outcast with a sensitive soul. He'd rather embrace goodness, companionship, fluffy bunnies. But there's always the darkness that draws him "toward the dragon" and away from any hope for the future.

Questions About Hate

  1. What is the origin of Grendel's hatred for Hrothgar in particular and humanity in general?
  2. How does Grendel react to the Shaper and Wealtheow, the two characters who represent beauty and goodness?
  3. What does Grendel lose or gain from his visit with the dragon? How does this visit change his outlook on life, if at all?
  4. What is the relationship between Grendel and Beowulf in this story? Are they clear enemies from the moment Grendel sees Beowulf, or is it more complicated than that?

Chew on This

It's not actually in Grendel's genetic code to act with rage toward humanity.

In this novel, peacekeeping and reconciliation are generally not great ideas.